Sean O'Shea by Sean O'Shea
The surprising truth about Notre Dame and the Gipper legend in new book
Posted on Friday, October 08, 2010 at 11:09 PM
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George Gipp is the most famous figure in Notre Dame history, right up there with his coach Knute Rockne.
His legend endures while others fade and he seems as mythical a figure as ever.
Partly it may be because many confuse him with Ronald Reagan who played him in a 1940 film but forever after became known as the Gipper himself.
Now a new book spills the beans on the Gipper who was definitely not the altar boy that Ronald Reagan portrayed in his movie.
"The Gipper: George Gipp, Knute Rockne, and the Dramatic Rise of Notre Dame Football" is a must read book for all Notre Dame fans but some will be surprised by what it reveals.
Author Jack Cavanaugh has buried the legend but in the process has come up with a much more interesting flesh and blood character, warts and all, who has inspired generations of Irish fans
Who doesn't know the final lines from the movie "Knute Rockne All American" for the Gipp as he lies mortally ill in hospital?
As Knute Rockne described it "The last thing George said to me, 'Rock,' he said, 'sometime when the team is up against it and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they've got and win just one for the Gipper.'
It probably never happened in real life Cavanaugh surmises, but Rockne, an incredible motivator, never let that stop him.
Both Rockne and Gipp were Protestant, and in a very interesting nugget, Cavanaugh says Gipp' mother was actually an Irish Protestant from Northern Ireland who was fiercely anti-Catholic.
She wanted him removed from a Catholic hospital when he became fatally ill and always denied he had converted to Catholicism on his death bed.
The Gipper was a high school drop out who paid his way through Notre Dame by winning pool matches but burned both ends of the candle.
He may even have been a draft dodger, Cavanaugh hints, not enlisting for the U.S Army in the First World War.
Cavanaugh evokes the anti-Catholic sentiment of the era very well , the Ku Klux Klan hatred of Notre Dame the refusal of Michigan among others to play the Catholic upstarts, the epic battles with Army as the fledgling college sought to establish itself
But it is his enduring portrait of the Gipper and Knute Rockne, two Protestants who shaped the legacy forever of Notre Dame that is especially readable..
It is a book well worth reading for the myths it debunks and the sadness of the short life of George Gipp one of the greatest college athletes of all time.